“China and Japan” has some mistakes on Korean history
American sociologist Ezra Vogel, who passed away in late 2020, was one of the most respected experts in East Asian affairs, including those of China, Japan, and Korea.
In the prolific writer’s 2019 book “China and Japan: Facing History,” Vogel hoped that the two countries would forge a new relationship for the 21st century.
In the book, however, experts said that the former Harvard professor makes some mistakes about the history of Korea like the Battle of Haengju, the hard-fought combat between soldiers of Korea and Japan in 1593 during the 1592-1598 Japanese invasion of Korea.
Headed by General Gwon Yul, the Korean force defeated the Japanese attack. But Vogel erroneously wrote that the battle was between the Chinese and the Japanese.
“The Chinese pursued the Japanese troops as they retreated southward. In a valley some 10 miles north of Seoul, Japanese and Chinese troops fought once again, and the Japanese defeated the Ming troops,” the book reads.
“But when the Japanese attacked Chinese forces in Haengju, near Seoul, they were in turn defeated by the Chinese. The Japanese were able to use muskets, which they had learned how to make from Europeans, but the Chinese also had good technology, such as cannons that they had learned to take from the Portuguese.”
Lee Tae-jin, a former history professor at Seoul National University, said that the description is plain wrong. He also served as president of the National Institute of Korean History.
“The Chinese force was not involved in the Battle of Haengju,” Lee said. “Vogel was an expert in Japanese history. But it appears that he did not have deep knowledge on Korean history.”
In addition, Vogel noted in the book that only the aristocratic class was allowed to take Korea’s official examinations. But in fact, all citizens were allowed, excluding untouchables and siblings of concubines.